There still remains a debate - whose women character are stronger - Ritwik´s or Ray′s? The answer is not that easy. Both of the maestro had created unique women in their films.
While discussing the women characters in Ritwik′s film, lets us pick three women characters from three of his films. 1. Meghe Dhaka Tara (The cloud capped star/1960), 2. Komol Gandhar (E flat/1961) & 3. Subarnarekha (1965).
These three films are the trilogy made by Ghatak all of which revolves around the socio economic implications of Partition. We may call these three films as “Partition through a woman´s eye.”
Before going in the analysis let us discuss about Ritwik´s association with Indian People´s Theatre Association, shortly called IPTA. Ghatak has spoken in details about this association. IPTA, launched in 1943 lead a highly creative movement of politically engaged art and literature, bringing into its fold the foremost artist of the time.
In his interviews Ghatak recorded his debt to this socialist political - cultural project of 1940s. The 40´s was the decade of Bengal famine, the partition of India, Hindu-Muslim riots, Independence. And it was also the decade of the Quit India movement, the naval mutiny, peasant rebellions, thousands of strikes, barricades on the street raised by workers - students and ordinary citizens, a decade of cultural resurgence led by the IPTA, observed by Mainak Biswas in his brilliant analysis “Kinship and History in Ritwik Ghatak”.
ritwik ghatak films
According to this analysis, practically all of the films of Ritwik Ghatak are about the social tensions and turmoil in Bengal in Eastern India, an area which since 1947 contained the more populous part of Pakistan and since 1972 in known as Bangladesh. It is the measure of Ghatak´s artistic caliber that he turned and essentially provincial experience into an expression of universal validity. Actually he took a provincial issue and made it universal. Meghe Dhaka Tara, Komol Gandhar and Subarnarekha ultimately become universally true through women. Neeta, Anusuya and Sita then become women of everywhere, only not of Bengal.
Meghe Dhaka Tara is the story of Neeta. She lives in Calcutta in the late 1950´s following independence, partition, disastrous famine. She is the eldest daughter of the refugee family. She is the provider for all of her family. She falls in love, but her lover marries her younger sister. Her younger brother while working in a factory lost his hand, her elder brother left the house for his musical career and she alone carries the entire burden with a broken heart and ultimately she was attacked by tuberculosis. She was sent to a sanatorium but before this in the rainy night we find Neeta in a different attitude as if she knew the inevitable - she has to go back. Where? That is the trick Ghatak played in portraying her tortured women. He brings resemblance between Neeta and Goddess Durga, who after a 4 day stay at parent´s house has to go back. According to Ghatak, “The Great Mother Image, with both the benevolent and terrible aspects has been in out civilization since antiquity, inter-mingled with our myths, our epics, our folklores and our scriptures. And this becomes ultimately an universal theme. When Neeta meets his brother in the sanatorium, she breaks into tears and shouts “Dada Ami Banchte Chai…”
“I want to live…” Neeta´s cry echoes through the pine trees of the hill station as her brother looks on helplessly.
We then realize the height of tragedy of partition, of being rootless through the eyes of Neeta.
Then let´s come to Komol Gandhar which basically a love story set in the backdrop of IPTA. According to analysis the relationship between Anusuya and Bhrigu have a similarity with the partition of Bengal and their try for joining hands reflects the idea of re-unification of the divided Bengal.
In a dramatic scene we find Anusuya and Bhrigu standing on a rail track, which is blocked at a certain point. It was not blocked before the partition. As it become two different countries, the rail connection is stopped and the trac k is blocked. Anusuya tries to convey the pain of separation to Bhrigu. Possibly Bhrigu understands the pain. According to Ghatak the wounds of partition and doubts of an uncertain independence; the depression comes from an indiscriminate use of national idealism; the emotional bankruptcy of leadership nurtured on Western ideals - the pain and failure resulting from these national and international crises. This film deals with these pains; painting a picture of the valueless, hopeless descent. The heroine of the film is an image of Shakuntala; the hero represents the turmoil in the minds of modern youth; not really healthy or sane, a little obsessed down hearted.
But above all this film is film of hope. Anusuya made her choice as she waits for the troupe in Bajbaj itself. Bhrigu accepts her. This was the ultimate dream of Ghatak - the reunion of the two Bengals.
The last one is Subarnarekha. The film has a backdrop of Calcutta on 1948. A floating population of refugees builds temporary homes. In one of these colonies, live Ishwar and his little sister Sita. Subarnarekha is the story of Sita - about her marriage, her widowhood, her struggle and ultimately her tragedy.
It is not only Sita´s tragedy, the tragedy of all uprooted Bengali women. Sita is the archetype of them. At the end of the film Binu, her (Sita) son asks her uncle Ishwar to take him to the dreamland on the other side of the Subarnarekha river.
Binu´s dreamland in nothing but the other Bengal where was his mother´s root. Sita´s tragedy in carried over by her son.
While discussing about this film, Ghatak said, “One archetype image that has been haunting us from a remote past in today confronting us all over the world. You may call in by many names - the Hydrogen Bomb, or the Strategic Air Command or De Gaulle or Adeneur or some other name you would not like to mention. It is the power of annihilation, the ability to destroy and perhaps like little Sita, we have suddenly found ourselves confronted by it.”
Sita was confronted with the Bahurupee in Kali´s disguise in the barren air strip. Actually it was Sita - it was Neeta, Anusuya and all other partition sticken Bengali women confronting sudden annihilating force which brought deep tragedies in their lives.